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Posts Tagged ‘communication’

What Makes A Culture?

Can an individual have their own culture, or must the aspects be shared by a group?  How much can be absent or altered without losing (collective) culture or (personal) identity?

When I think of culture, one of the first things to come to mind is food.  When I get a chance to visit another country, I want to experience their food: the tang in the air, the flavors, the different ingredients.  I’m curious whether food is mostly served at home or at a restaurant?  If Asian markets are any hint, pre-packaged foods are popular in China.  But Asian cooking involves all sorts of raw ingredients I’ve never heard of here in the United States.  Here also we have one of our cultures that only eats either frozen foods or fast foods or snacks.  But aren’t there still places in the world where cooking from scratch is an art?  Some cultures encourage bonding over sharing food in various degrees from a family meal to a family-style where the food is served all in giant platters into which people dip their hands to hospitality.  On the other end of the spectrum is the more formal dining experience, at a restaurant, with plates individually prepared, courses served.  There are cultures more receptive to buffets (my grandparents from Kansas *loved* them), or short-order cooking.  There is something special that some cultures encourage about preparing food together.  Some places esteem cooks highly, while others relegate the cooking of food to the lowliest classes (or women or slaves).  In some cultures dessert is a special treat, for holidays maybe – while some have a dessert at least once a day!  Which cultures care about nutrition?  Which about presentation?  Which about exotic flavors and innovative dishes?  Which focus more on comfort food and cravings?  What are considered comfort foods in various cultures?

I’ve noticed that different cultures have different modes of posture.  Some use chairs, and some cushions.  Some have sofas, others benches.  There are places where squatting is more common than sitting “Indian-style”.  Related to this, I think, is hygiene: how often do the people bathe, and by what means?  What are their toilet facilities like – or do they use fields, dig holes?  How do the people view health, view disease?  How do they treat it?  Do they use prayers or rituals?  Exercises?  Medicines?  Drugs?  Herbal remedies and nutrition?  Oils?  Mineral baths?  Other practices like chiropractors would employ?  Do they gather the sick together in hospitals or tend them at home?  Are there doctors?  How much treatment is limited to professionals?  Do they believe in preemptive medical care like scans or vaccinations?  At what points do they choose not to treat a person any more?

How are drugs and alcohol viewed?  Sometimes there are whole cultures built around the common experience of these substances.

What do people wear in various cultures?  What are the conventions; that is, is it normal for anyone to wear pants?  Robes?  Hats?  Certain colors or fabrics?  What is the style?  How often do fashions change?  How are they changed?  Does appearance matter as a form of art or more a form of modesty?  Is clothing more about the aesthetic or the functional?  How is clothing used to demonstrate distinctions in gender, age, class, employment, marital status, etc.?  Do people alter their bodies for the sake of appearance: foot binding, neck stretching, piercings, tattoos?

It seems to me that different cultures hold different ideas about acceptable risks.  Is it acceptable to let a child play near a fire?  Jump off a log?  Play where he might encounter a snake?  Get into a fist-fight with another child?  This is not exclusive to children, though.  In some cultures taking risks is involved in a rite of passage.  Risks are joined in together, to form social bonds.  Other cultures are much more conservative and careful, I think.  What do people put on the other side of the scale when they’re weighing risks?  Are fun and excitement of any relevance to them?  Competition?  Appearance?  Or do they only consider practical things like preparing for invasions or hunting for food?

Art is such a huge sphere for culture that I don’t even know where to begin.  Cultures have their favorite mediums, subjects, colors, motives.  I can only suppose that certain fonts are the preferred writing of specific cultures, since the fonts on grocery stores appealing to diverse cultures are unique and identifiable even in the United States.  People groups have their own favorite sounds of music, their customary scales in which their music is played or sung.  Some have more instruments than others.  Dancing varies from culture to culture in complexity and energy and purpose.

There are other forms of entertainment that vary depending on the culture.  Even the predominance of entertainment can be a mark of a different culture.  Sports are observed as entertainment, or played for entertainment; in some cultures it seems to be one more than the other.  Some sports are preferred by certain cultures, probably by way of other aspects of their culture (energy, reserve, risk) and inheritance (what did their parents play or watch?).  The complexity of toys, items used for play and entertainment, is also different in foreign places.  Some toys focus more on athleticism, others on skill and focus, and others do most of the work for you, performing for your enjoyment.  Toys can be scientific or domestic – little representations of the working world.  On the other hand, they can be silly escapes from the real world.

Architecture is probably a form of art, too.  But I think it transcends art in that buildings often serve additional purposes.  So, is the architecture of a culture about efficiency? Beauty?  Community?  Symbolism?  Do they use materials found at hand, or manufactured, or transported to the building site?  How big are they – are they too big for one family to raise themselves?  Do people try to live in the same place their whole lives, or are they ambitious for bigger buildings?  Do they live in natural formations like caves?  Do they dig out holes in the ground?  Do they live in trees?  By rivers?  Do they dig wells or irrigation trenches?  Do they build dams?  And how much do all of these things influence other aspects of the culture, like family and friends and food and business?

An aspect of culture in my own country so glaring that I failed to recognize it at first is materialism.  How many things do people own?  Is it a status symbol to own more?  Is sharing encouraged?  Do people show love through gifts?  How do people feel about financial sacrifice?  Do they invest in material things or in businesses – or adventures?  Where do they keep their goods?  Are things owned by individuals or groups or everyone?  Is there a distinction between land as property and removable objects as property?

Cultures have their own stories.  “Own” is here used loosely, because I have found common threads of story in many different cultures.  There are fables about the origins of things, and love stories, and stories of wars and sacrifice.  Some stories even have comedies, the sense of humor varying from culture to culture (and individual to individual).  What is seen as a hero?  Is it the man who slays the most enemies?  The man who rules the most living men?  The man who sacrifices himself?  Different cultures have their different monsters.  They have their own dominant fears, just as they have different favorite virtues.

Values shape cultures.  It seems that in America the dominant culture values independence, and speaking our mind.  I’ve heard of cultures that value the good of the whole.  Some value honor, others hold preserving life as a higher value.  Some value youth, and others value the elders.

Religions are often associated with and intertwined in cultures.  Is there one sovereign God?  What is He/he like?  Are there many gods worshiped?  Are certain animals or plants revered?  How is worship carried out?  Through song?  Pilgrimage?  Sex?  Sacrifice?  Sacred words?  Eating?

Cultures have often established their own rituals to recognize significant events like birthdays, coming of age, marriage, and other accomplishments (like graduation).  They have special ways of holding funerals.  They bring their own unique takes on holidays.  What fun, to see images and artifacts from Christmases in other places or ages!

Language is one of my favorite aspects of culture.  Is it important to the culture?  Is it precise or more personal?  Is it written or mostly spoken?  Is it tonal?  How appropriate are metaphors, slang, and profanity?  What are the customary greetings?  Besides the words spoken, what other gestures are included?  What gestures are seen as essential to good manners, and which ones are abhorrent?  Which ones are just the convention?  One tribe I heard of rubs its nose while thinking, but it is more common for my culture to scratch our head or chin – or to frown.  Does the culture encourage more or less expression of one’s own thoughts – or feelings?  Which is predominant: thoughts or feelings?  Is expression mostly communicated by gesture, action, word, or art?  Accordingly, are the people of the culture more generally reserved – or exuberant?  Are they loud or quiet?  Does everyone speak at once?  Do they take turns at anything they do?

How intimate are their friendships?  How many friends does a person tend to have?  Do they share their friends with their whole family, or is it a private affair?  How do they play?  Is playing part of friendship?  How do they show honor?  How do they respond to dishonor?  Is dishonor a casual joke or a serious offense?  How are reconciliations brought about?

There is diversity in any culture, large or small.  How is that balanced?  Is it suppressed or embraced?  Is there competition more than cooperation?  Do they try to come to unity, or to sameness?  Are differences displayed?  Analyzed?  Intentionally created?  What things are used to emphasize (or manufacture) what they have in common?  I know in some places religion does this, in others wars bring people together against a common enemy, and in others it is the common experience of standardized schooling that prepares them to respond in similar ways to things.

I don’t know if there are cultures without classes, but given that in most there are, how are relationships between the classes?  Is there mutual respect?  Is there resentment?  Are people generally content with the life to which they were born?  Do they practice cruelty or charity towards the classes that are more needy?  Is this voluntary or institutionalized?

How big is one’s sphere in their culture?  Who does a culture encourage friendship with?  Who does it encourage responsibility towards?  What are members encouraged to aspire to?  How much is proximity a factor?  What kinds of transportation do people use (walking, driving, biking, boating, flying, carting, carrying)?  Do people travel for social reasons or economic ones?  Or are there environmental reasons to practice a sort of migratory lifestyle?

Here in the United States we have many cultures living side by side, some whose “boundaries” are only a block or two from a significantly different group.  And with technology the way it is today, we can converse with people far away, travel quickly to see them, view photos they took, and purchase art created in foreign cultures.  How aware are people of other cultures?  (How aware are they that theirs is distinct?)  Are they interested in them?  Do they want to integrate good things from other cultures into their own?  Do they integrate foreigners?  Is this by means of cooperation or an initiation and instruction?  Are they willing to adapt their own culture?  Do they resist change?  Do they try to replace every culture they meet?  Do they replace the cultures of peoples they come to dominate?  Do they have compassion for foreigners or other cultures?  Do they feel superior?  Do they covet what other cultures have or are?

To an extent, family structure is different in cultures.  How do husbands relate to their wives, and what is expected of each within the home?  How do people come to be married?  How many wives may a man have?  How do parents relate to their children?  Who else bears the burden of child-rearing (community, grandparents, school, nannies)?  What kinds of discipline are used?  Are children seen and not heard?  Are they seen as trophies or contributors?  How important is extended family?  Is family more important than friends?  Are there specific obligations towards family members?  How does a family unit relate to the rest of the world?  How much is the government involved?

Some people view laws and government as providing order and security, or as being the at-the-ready conflict resolvers, while others expect the government to oversee all of the individual’s (and group’s) needs.  Some expect the government to enforce justice, and others are content with a system built on bribes.  Do the people believe it is their place to submit, or to reform, or to revolt?  In some places, the government is not only expected to take care of needs, but to take on big societal problems, and solve them.  Governments tend to look out for their own interests, but whether the peoples are ok with that or not is not so universal.  Some governments take in a vast number of citizens, whereas there are some whose range is limited to the immediate family of a Bedouin tribe.

Is business conducted in a personal way?  Does a person go door to door offering their goods or services?  Is there a public common market or do consumers seek out goods and services at specific phone numbers, websites, or stores?  Is a transaction considered between equals, or are service providers a lower class?  Are the servants recognized as members of a household or anonymous functionaries?  Is there a mindset of professionalism?  Who desires the professionalism – professional or consumer or both or neither?  How influential are corporations – the idea that no one person is responsible for the good or service being sold?

There is such a variety of technology, and tools, that are used in different societies, and these can be both representative and influential.  What things are used for communication?  For building?  Transporting?  How much of life is taken up by work?

What is the general schedule?  What is the work week?  How many hours in a day are work?  Is work a means or an end?  Which hours are devoted to sleeping?  When and how do people wake?  When do they play?  When do they have social activities?  Do they work together or finish their work and then spend time together?  When do they eat and how often?

If a group’s language is forgotten, and they move from the land of their buildings and ditches; if they stop playing with their old toys, and their clothing no longer distinguishes them clearly from one class to another – but they carry on a secret family recipe from the old, old days when all those things had been in place, have they lost their culture?  Can they share their recipe, market their spices and vegetables to other people groups, and still have their culture?  When do we say a culture has become distinct?  When do we say it has merged with another?

Should we try to preserve cultures?  Or is a way of life gloriously defined by the personalities and abilities and histories of the people who make up the group?  Is there a difference between dissolving a culture and replacing it?  What harms does the structure of tradition found in a culture cause?  What benefits does it provide?

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I called this edition Pigfest on the Roof, and nominally themed it off of Fiddler on the Roof, inviting people to bring a traditional side dish or dessert for the feast.  But we did not meet on the roof.  Instead, we crammed 21 adults and 7 children into my living room, kitchen, and hallway.  I thought about taking pictures this time, but I am simply not that organized!

In the 3 hours we met, the Pigfesters engaged in seven separate debates.  Everyone behaved very well, which made moderating rather easier.  The topics were interesting and well-engaged.

  1. Because the government is anti-God and immoral, it would be immoral to pay taxes. Jesus said to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.  But what is Caesar’s?  To how much was Caesar entitled?  When the sitting executive’s face is not on our coin, as it was in Jesus’ day, is it still to be rendered to him?  Does our personal judgment determine the justice of a tax?  Is the income tax even legal?  Is it rather unconstitutional?  But the resolution was giving moral reasons for refusing to pay taxes, not legal ones.  Must Christians submit to immoral governments?  Is doing something morally wrong in the name of submission ok?  In the Bible, children were wiped out with their fathers for the sin of the father, but we see no mention of justification because they were just doing what their fathers instructed.  Do the layers of responsibility in the government protect us from culpability?  That is, by paying taxes, are we not simply enabling the government to make good choices?  That they make bad choices is a potential consequence of our trust.  But, we are in a democracy where we the people choose our government.  Some of our taxes do go to moral things, like roads.  It was suggested that we look at the federal budget and deduct from our income tax a corresponding percentage to that which the government spends on immoral activities, and to enclose a letter of explanation.  There is a doctrine of Lesser Magistrates, which discusses the conflict between obeying contradicting authorities or whether citizens are required to submit to authorities not established by the higher authority (in this case, the US Constitution).  Jesus paid his taxes (the story of the coin in the fish).
  2. Men have no biblical responsibilities towards their families. Paul had to have been married, so it is possible he abandoned his wife for the call of God.  (This was highly debated.)  If a man does not provide for his own family, he is worse than an infidel – the Bible.  A husband is to love his wife as himself, which often includes caring for her needs.  At this point, the contributor of the resolution conceded that the Bible did have some responsibilities listed for men towards their families, so the debate shifted to what they are:  What is the definition of men?  It includes fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers.  Brothers were commanded in the Mosaic Law to take their sister-in-laws as wife if they were barren widows (law of the kinsman-redeemer).  Lot is an example of a man whom we do not, in our culture, consider to have been a good father.  He offered his daughters to the lustful crowd – and what’s up with that?  But, was he a jerk, or was he righteous?  Scripture is often addressed to fathers, which seems to be significant.  Some of the sons of Jacob slaughtered a city to avenge their sister’s rape.  Is that a responsibility?  God is presented as a Father.  Are we not to imitate Him?  Does God have any obligations to His children?  Obligations (and by implication, responsibilities) have to do with consequences.  When God takes an action, he is responsible for the consequences, and thus obligated to abide those consequences…  Likewise, a man is obligated to deal with the child he has if his wife conceives.  God’s fatherhood is often demonstrated in punishment.  But He is also merciful.  Are fathers, therefore, required to imitate God’s grace as well as His chastising?  Whence comes the impulse to provide and protect?  If not from the Bible, and if not from the character of God, then where?
  3. America has gotten worse since the Women’s Liberation movement. Worse was described as moral deterioration: divorce, abortion, crime.  And the women’s liberation movement was specified as that movement that rose in the 60’s and focused on equal opportunity, women leaving the home for the workplace, and sexual liberation.  Perhaps it is not the actual liberating of women that caused the moral decline, but the attitude women took.  Are we talking about a cause of moral decline, or is the women’s liberation movement yet another symptom of a larger rebellion.  It was a rebellion against God.  “We hate men” was not the origin of the movement, but rather, World War II empowered women when men were unable to work the factories and women left the home to take up those responsibilities.  Or perhaps women’s lib. started with suffrage.  Are not all created equal, even male and female?  Does that not apply to roles?  The real wickedness of the feminist mindset is not, “We hate men,” but “We hate God.”  For they are rebelling against God’s created order.  Perhaps women, though, were not the instigators.  Maybe men abusing their authority, really oppressing them (for example, physical violence) caused women to assert themselves.  What does this subject matter today?  Abortion is going on today, and is horribly unjust to fathers.  They have no legal right to stay the murder of their own child.  A result of the women’s liberation movement is that men were not allowed to be men, and so have abdicated their roles.  But shouldn’t men have stood up against the women’s liberation movement and defended the God-given order?  Those who did were slandered.  Really, emasculation is a result of the Fall and the Curse, when God told Eve that her desire would be for her husband, it is the terminology of desiring to be “over” her husband, just like sin “got the better of” Cain.  Women today do appreciate their liberties, without wicked motives, and make good use of them (women doing missions without their families).  The Christian worldview has been proclaimed as the kindest to women.  Are we kind to women to fight for equality in the area of sexual promiscuity?  Should we not have fought for equality the other way, of neither men’s nor women’s promiscuity being acceptable?  Even though we may disagree with the movement, we can use the women’s liberties today for good: a woman who doesn’t believe women should have the vote can choose to submit her vote to her husband’s views.  The movement is continuing even today, but is evolving, and so is not necessarily from the same motives as the feminists had in the 60’s.
  4. Sharing is unnecessary and not biblically supported. Sharing is defined as co-ownership, especially as opposed to lending.  The distinction between (and comparative value of) giving and sharing was a theme throughout the debate.  Are we saying that taking turns is unnecessary?  When a child’s friend comes over to play, what is the host child to do?  Should he keep his toys to himself?  Or – perhaps he should truly give the toy, not expecting it back.  Sharing is looking out for other’s interests, putting others ahead of yourself.  [Ownership] rights are unbiblical.  We put so much emphasis on our rights, but God calls us to give up our rights.  Christians are told to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Is there a difference morally between offering to share with someone else, and requesting that someone else share with you?  Sharing may be unnecessary when giving is an option.  But to whom are we to give?  How much?  Sharing makes life better and more efficient.  Instead of buying a toy for each child in a family, they can share one toy.  Sometimes there is no money to buy for each individual what they need, but they can have what they need if they all share one.  How is hospitality done if not by sharing?  God owns everything anyway; none of this property is really ours.  God made us stewards, and we are to exercise wisdom and discernment in how best to use what He has entrusted to us.
  5. God withholds because we do not ask. If we are obedient to God, then we abide in God’s love, and God does what we ask.  When we walk with God, He gives us the desires of our hearts.  The Bible encourages us to entreat God – even to the point of nagging Him.  How does God’s sovereignty fit into the equation?  Is God really dependent on our actions?  God gives some good gifts without prayer (common grace: rain falls on just and unjust; and special grace to Christians, but without us asking).  When the Spirit intercedes for our weakness, what if our weakness is that we don’t ask for the right things?  Can He bridge that gap?  Generally that verse is not interpreted as praying for us when we are not praying, but interceding for us as we pray.  God changes His mind when people act or plead with Him.  Either God lies or He changes His mind, for he told Moses that He would destroy Israel, and then God didn’t.  If our children acted that way, we would punish them…  It seems best to act as though what we do and pray matters, regardless of what we believe about the sovereignty of God.  Daniel knew God’s prophecy that He would do something at a certain time, but Daniel still prayed for it to happen.  Is God’s plan allowed to be malleable?  If not for that, could we have this redemption story: God creates the world perfect, but man sins, so God gets to demonstrate His lovingkindness by sending His only Son to die for us.  Or did God plan it that way all along?  Isn’t consistency an attribute of God?  Maybe God must only be consistent within His character (for example, mercy).
  6. Ownership for the sake of hospitality is the best kind of stuff and the best kind of ownership. Best is defined as optimal, in the short term and/or in the long term.  People are not equivalent to “stuff.”  The other reason to have a lot of stuff is to be like a dragon, hoarding riches and laying on them because they bring pleasure to you individually.  Are families included in hospitality?  If you own something for the purpose of benefiting others who are in your family, is that still the best kind?  There is this trend toward larger and larger master bedrooms, which serves no hospitable purpose, but often detracts from available space for hospitality towards others.  Hospitality, though, is an attitude, and can be demonstrated without stuff.  Should we buy a lot of stuff to be hugely hospitable?  There is a difference between purchasing stuff for the sake of hospitality and making hospitable use of stuff bought for other reasons.  This resolution did not address the inherent value of the property in question (ought we to be hospitable with our Play Station?), but rather, with the motive in possessing it.  Hospitality enables relationships.  Maybe a better kind of ownership would be for God’s call: some people need their own space to refresh in order to do what God has called them to do.  If it is impossible to share without making yourself useless, hospitality might not be the most important thing.  We should be willing to give up property when God wants us to do something else.
  7. Intimate friendships with the same sex is just as important for men as for women. Intimacy was defined as vulnerability especially in the senses of accountability and sharing emotions.  Men see the world differently: things versus relationships.  Guys do have as intimate of relationships, but do not express them the same way as girls.  Spending the day hunting and sharing a one-sentence commentary on their job (men) can be as intimate as a three hour conversation (women).  But the argument of the resolution is that men need to express more – a lot of times, and not in a way that looks like women.  Take, for example, David and Jonathan, who had a much closer relationship than what is common to men in our culture.  Men are afraid to reveal themselves, especially for accountability.  There is also a difficulty in expressing masculine intimacy for fear of seeming “queer*.”  Are women really good examples of intimate friendships, or rather than holding each other accountable, aren’t we gossiping and discussing things that shouldn’t be said?  Many men experience closer friendships with other men before marriage, and miss those relationships afterwards, but have been unable or have neglected to keep them up.  Men have been influenced by the doctrine of individualism, so that they overvalue doing things on their own and not asking for help.  The hard world necessitates a shell especially for men, who are in the world more than women.  Men don’t have time for relationships.  World War II hurt the willingness of men to be open, because they did not want to talk about the horrors they had witnessed or even committed.  Were male relationships more prominent in the past or in other cultures?  *queer in the sense of homosexual

Each 15-minute segment seemed to go too fast and be over too soon.  The incredible value of Pigfests it that they do not allow you to really complete a topic, or all the aspects brought up in the debate.  So we keep thinking and talking (and writing!) for weeks to come.  I think it is interesting how there are often two themes weaving their way through the debate.  At some points there were up to four people with their hands up waiting to speak, so the different threads were carried on well.  For myself, I had prepared a resolution, but the things I wanted to bring up with it were touched on in so many of the other debates that I decided not to present mine for debate.

All in all I am quite pleased with how the night went.  God answered all of my prayers for the party.  As hostess and moderator and human being I felt more focused than I have at some Pigfests, and for that I also thank God.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” – 1 Peter 3:4

Quietness is hard for me.  I like to talk.  I like to be busy.  When I long for God, I long for His action – for evidence that He is involved in my life.  That verse, “Be still and know that I am God,” is comforting, commanding, and challenging.  Stillness is also something I am not good at.

Most of the time I pray for quietness, to feel at peace.  I want that inner contentment and focus.  Lately I’ve been realizing I need to behave peacefully, to be intentional about being quiet.  And it seems too common, too human an effort, to apply this to how I talk.  But it isn’t.  I need to practice biting my tongue when I have nothing edifying to say.  To first ask myself, “Have I listened?”  Is my need to talk a need to bless and build up others, or is it something selfish and impulsive?

These are the things I was thinking about while I watched the movie, Avatar.  Reflecting the vulgar culture common to the military and Hollywood, the film employs cussing.  Such words are, in context, meaningless grunts of emotional expression.  Because they are cuss words, they also indicate that the speaker is at a state of minimal restraint and no respect for his audience.  He is speaking because he feels he must, not because he wishes his hearers to understand.

Even when the vocabulary itself is not profane, the dialogue is not very deep.  Often I got the impression that the main character, Jake, was jabbering because he was used to talking, not because he had something to say.  He would speak in English when no one around could understand.  The natives, aliens to us, were always making noise: hissing at enemies, crying out with enthusiasm for war, ululating for unexplained reasons, chanting repetitive hums at religious ceremonies.  I wondered why the moviemakers would put such scenes in the script.  Partly I believe they were imitating cultures that are foreign to Americans as a mere device to convince us the tribe was “primitive” and unfamiliar.  On the other hand, maybe the writers and director function in that way themselves, and see nothing unusual about a noisy movie that says nothing.

Indeed the movie itself spent over two and a half hours showing off imaginative landscapes, fanciful machines, and big fires.  There was a story, but I didn’t find it captivating and this is why: I don’t think they were saying much of anything.  Imitating storylines that worked in other movies, Avatar was an unconvincing performance of people learning to live by impulses, to fulfill themselves as told by their bodies, not by any transcendent principles.  They spoke, acted, felt, and thought because they wanted to – which if any of those things had been possible without purpose, would not be profane.  But each of those things does have value and direction, given by the Creator.  Even in a myth, where storytellers are not describing the true world and its true God, they must bow to this truth or be found profane before the Creator they are imitating.

And I must either speak as the oracles of God or, as Job, place my hand over my mouth.  God is the original.  If I do not reflect Him well, I am an abomination, an insult to the sacredness He has placed on words, on thought, on feeling, and on work.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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A friend was telling me about a book the other day.  She said that in the first page not only had the author stated his thesis; he had also persuaded her of its truth.  The following hundred fifty pages were spent reiterating the point and adding evidence with which to convict the audience of the need for the final third of his book, advice for applying the concept.  My friend has always been more interested in writing that was more practical than philosophical, and essentially agreed with the premise of this book before she began to read it.  So she sloughed through the repetitive, unnecessary chapters getting quite bored and wondering if the book was worth her time. 

And today, while I pondered her conversational book review, I realized something.  When I read, I cannot wait to share what I have learned with someone else.  I want to discuss the statements, to criticize them or exult in them, to take every piece of information from the book and draw conclusions from it.  I am rather bored by a book that is a list of how-to steps, because inevitably my situation is omitted, and I chafe under the restrictions of specifics.  As a little girl playing with legos, I always altered the instructions that came with the little car kits.  During a lecture, I much prefer taking my own notes to filling in blanks.  When I read, I am not merely receiving what the author intended; I am springboarding from there to further conclusions, adding the information to everything else I know and experience, in order to richly apply the new ideas. 

Not only am I blending each new piece of media with the others of my experience; I am contributing to the community knowledge and awareness.  Were I to read the book my friend was describing, I would not only be gaining information useful for my life, but also things that I could transfer to my friends, some of whom might benefit from all those tedious persuasion points.  I could write about the subject here (except I already have, when I read reviews of the same book by other bloggers – sharing their knowledge with their community).  Think about reviews and quotes, the work of one man in reading an entire volume in order to bring you a concise summary and sample. 

Have you an idea of the impact on your world when you read a book or watch a movie or listen to a song – or even have an experience?  We are, when living in community, all something like the feared and almost unstoppable Borg of Star Trek invention.  Our understanding is assimilated into a collective.  Except in our case, instead of our brains being hacked and joined to an impersonal super-computer, we are a collective by reason of our relationships: our compassion for others, and wisdom in choosing when to share and what.  Communication is key. 

Imagine a person who was reading, thinking, watching, and living – but who never communicated any of what he learned.  Though his experiences would shape him and his decisions and so impact the people around him, how much more could they all benefit if he was using his time not selfishly, but for what it could offer neighbors, family, and friends?  What I do not have time to read, watch, or do might be in the realm of the experiences of my acquaintance, who could give me the relevant parts or the most interesting parts. 

Worse than someone who will not communicate is a passive member of the community.  All he does is absorb media, blinking at a screen, fiddling with a video game, settling for mediocrity in all of his pursuits, never aspiring to innovation or improvement.  Such a person is not contributing to the community, is wasting his potential, while benefiting like a parasite from the efforts of others.  Even if he is a hermit, excluding himself from the community, by residing in the vicinity of communities (even in a macro situation like the large geography of a state or country) he will be the recipient of at least a few good things brought about by the selfless enterprise of others.  A country is strong when the people are united.  It will be profitable, creative, defensive, and resilient. 

So, too, is a church that is united.  God did not place His children as individual hermits to meditate on Him and reach full potential of godliness, testimony, or understanding.  He placed us as a people, in an organism called the church, made up of many members that the world may see our love in community, proclaiming not that God is near them, nor that God is in them, but that God is truly among them.  It is almost redundant to say that church is community.  But it is counterintuitive to today’s citizen.  He is taught to think of church as an institution, a collection of programs and “services,” which the religious attend and in which they ritually participate. 

The Bible teaches that the people redeemed by Christ’s grace are to walk in the Spirit, to live by faith, praying without ceasing.  We are saved individually, each bearing God’s image, each a man for whom Jesus gave His Life.  But that salvation and faith and Spirit pours into the collective when the “members” gather.  Then that which a person has read, learned, or experienced should be brought forward and discussed: questioned, projected, contrasted, added to the knowledge and circumstances of others, and then applied.  What esteem we should have for those with whom we fellowship, embracing their words whether encouraging or correcting, for we are all benefiting from the voice of God on many ears! 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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The following is a sort of running commentary on the movie, Remains of the Day.  I wrote it while watching the movie.  The movie is subtle and deep.  I don’t get poems.  I like them if they are clever or rhyme, but not if they’re too deep. So when I do really start to catch on, I get excited.  This movie is like a poem.  If you can grasp the meaning by just watching, you might not be too entertained by this blog post.  It’s full of spoilers and observations about the plot.  Another aspect of this essay is that because I wrote it during the movie, it alternates tenses.  If I speak in past tense, I’m referring to something that happened earlier in the movie, but which I was just pulling together later.  If it’s in the present tense I am either making a point about the theme of the story or discussing events unfolding before my eyes on the screen.  Rather than making the tone consistent throughout, I have preserved the original, hoping that the natural flow will communicate more about how my thoughts were developing.  I’m essentially inviting you to view the movie with me. 

 

“I’m not leaving.  I’ve nowhere to go.  I have no family.  I’m a coward…  I’m frightened of leaving and that’s the truth.  All I see out in the world is loneliness, and it frightens me.  That’s all my high principles are worth.  I’m ashamed of myself.”  Emma Thompson plays the housekeeper in Remains of the Day, opposite butler Anthony Hopkins.  She’s not afraid of confessing who she is.  In fact, I’d say she’s more afraid of not telling who she is. 

 

It’s a movie all about loneliness: on one side about trying to feel nothing or at least to show no feelings.  Actions and words went together to prove dignity, the hallmark of British society.  The main characters never talked, then encountered people who do.  How do you adjust to the demise of aristocracy as a philosophy?  What the butler, Mr. Stevens, had always known as abstract turned out to be affecting personal lives. 

 

(Mr. Lewis is an interesting thread to follow.  He’s an American way ahead of the gentlemen in the democracy and equality world.  The way he uses rhetoric is too direct for them.  Initially he makes enemies everywhere.  People think he doesn’t care about England or Europe.  In the end his view of politics is proven right, and he also turns out to be very fond of England for its real value.  It is he who preserves Darlington Hall.  He represents America, I think, across nearly a century of its history.) 

 

It isn’t that the butler can’t express himself or can’t feel anything.  He just exercises self-control.  His loyalty was misplaced.  He chose self-control because his goal was dignity.  By the end of his life, he’s second-guessing the direction he chose. 

 

In the movie Lord Darlington explains why he wants to help Germany.  He had a friend who fought on the side of Germany in the First World War, and afterwards was so devastated by its effect on his country that he committed suicide.  Mr. Stevens watched a similar thing happen to his boss over the course of the movie.  He feels obligated to honor the memory of his former employer and helps do as a free man what he couldn’t do as Lord Darlington’s servant. 

 

Near the beginning of the movie, Miss Kenton the housekeeper comes into Mr. Stevens’ parlor bringing flowers and representing passion and life.  She does her job well and respectfully, but offers a whole different approach to dignity, one that is more open and faithful to herself.  She represents the other side of loneliness, the kind that feels alone even when she’s with other people. 

 

Mr. Stevens never says what he means, following the example described by his father: the butler in India shot a tiger in the kitchen and entered the parlor a moment later to say dinner would be served at the usual hour, by which time there would be no discernible traces of the incident.  All this calm, polite conversation to convey the death of a ferocious animal in the dining room. 

 

So when Miss Kenton enters his room, he says that he prefers his room private, unchanged, and (seeming to refer to flowers but actually not) free of distraction.  The relationship between the butler and housekeeper is reminiscent of Elizabeth and Darcy’s conversations in Pride and Prejudice.  Until she got to know Darcy, he seemed rude and unfeeling.  Once Miss Kenton likewise makes the patient and attentive habit of knowing Mr. Stevens’ character and tastes, she can, rather on faith, begin to interpret what he says or doesn’t say as a sort of code for his true meaning.  Given her openness, he has the great advantage over her: the comfort of knowing when she agrees, security of being aware when she doesn’t, and even delight when her position entertains – all while, at first, safely hidden in his own opinions. 

 

But she begins to see through him, utilizing Plato’s “plot is everything” to observe his life.  She notices he doesn’t like pretty women on staff, and speculates, “Might it be that our Mr. Stevens fears distraction?”  She has an excellent memory, and so no doubt began to understand what he had thought of her when she first entered his study with flowers years earlier.  He didn’t trust himself. 

 

Passion is a distraction from duty.  Or is the other way around? 

 

“Please leave me alone, Miss Kenton.”  He wants to be alone, at least partly.  And he wants her to physically pry the book from his hands, to talk and guess and look into his face for the answers he dare not show but can’t hide.  He freezes, utterly conflicted for a moment, craving and fearing her closeness. 

 

“We have each other.  That’s all anyone can ever need.”

 – Miss Hull on marrying without money.

 

Miss Kenton finds that being together in the same house isn’t enough.  She might content herself with friendship, but he can’t.  He must have formality or surrender to love, but he doesn’t know how to do the latter.  She can’t bear the rejection, which is worse than loneliness. 

 

She hurt him.  She loved him and she hurt him.  Maybe that’s why she left. 

 

He didn’t owe her anything.  She knew he didn’t, but she hoped anyway.  That made her tears all the more bitter and self-reproaching when he couldn’t let himself admit he was in love. 

 

Why does Miss Kenton do these things?  She sees the outside world as lonely, in contrast to the house and servants (though Mr. Stevens sees the house as lonely).  She above all fears loneliness, and works and sacrifices so that she won’t feel alone.  This is why she eventually leaves.  Though Mr. Stevens knows she is not alone, he makes the mistake of not telling her so.  And she flees to what seems a sure thing, an offer of marriage to a man who says he loves her. 

 

She is too needy for a marriage, and her husband didn’t always say what he meant, either – even when he first said “I love you.”  The movie ends with the question of loneliness still hanging. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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In recent years outcry has been growing against the biased mainstream media.  This generally encompasses newspapers, broadcast television, and cable news channels, who have been shown to favor a political candidate in their reporting over his opponent, or to spin coverage of wars and international relations.  We should not be surprised at how easy it is to sway an audience.  The tone of an article, inclusion or omission of certain facts, the way questions are asked to acquire facts, and even the use or frequency of positive or negative buzz words all contribute to manipulating an audience.  And we must admit that it is impossible to prevent bias from appearing in our media.  Some gross abuses may be avoidable; news coverage should not be fabricating stories, and ought to check that they have reliable sources.  What bothers most people is the apparent monopoly in the media by one side of American culture, namely, the more liberal side. 

 

This is not a new phenomenon.  During the Revolutionary War underground printing presses published pamphlets, propaganda for the masses who were otherwise uninformed about the masses of people discontented with British oppression.  Media has been used in such ways, then, for centuries.  100 years ago the newspaper moguls such large and influential cities as New York and Chicago, far from being true competitors, met in the legendary smoke-filled rooms to agree on policies to support, on news to cover, that would best protect their power and influence.  For my purposes today I cannot describe how these men gained their power.  Yet they had it, and motive to keep their power. 

 

But how could their power be threatened?  One threat that goes deeper than we may at first imagine is the possibility of real competition.  Suppose an enterprising young reporter had started his own printers, and published his own version of the news.  More than likely he would have started small.  Such a man could have made certain news available that was not to be found in any other papers.  And so he could gain an audience.  There is obvious economic pressure on the established media to maintain their audience.  The nature of free markets dictates that larger corporations can afford to have lower prices.  They have the advantage of an incumbent, brand recognition and loyalty already strong among their patrons.  With more reporters, they can cover more territory, and produce more writing.  And, of course, they have the ear of the people, and can tell them what they will about their opponent’s or the facts the other news sources report. 

 

This competitive atmosphere is a familiar fixture in the market.  And media giants have the advantage in every respect.  Why would they be worried?  Power.  The more this different voice gains the respect of the people, the more power is taken from the others.  The new voice creates few new readers, garnering the majority of its business by persuading the subscribers to the other papers to transfer their interest and attention.  There are only so many news consumers to go around.  And if readership falls below a certain level, the influence of that paper is strikingly less.  In a democratic society, the majority rules.  If one news source ceases to control the majority, they are in danger of losing everything. 

 

Risk goes beyond that simple math.  The more media is divided, and choice is required of the consumer, the less power is wielded by the media as a whole.  Think of a large room.  If one strong voice is projecting its speech in an otherwise silent room, the people will hear him.  They are more likely to believe him.  Many voices in chorus produce the same effect.  If the whole room erupts in conversation, not only will you scarcely be able to hear the person right next to you; you will not be able to hear the one large voice, either.  You will have to make a choice.  Who do you wish to hear?  The friend next to you, or the intelligent man across the aisle?  The woman discussing a topic of interest, or the man with the microphone?  Are you going to heed the voice on the stage or the voice by the door?  How do you know if these people are even telling the truth?  Suddenly no one has power to manipulate you, and once more you are an individual with private responsibility. 

 

Today we have just such a room full of voices.  The traditional media is losing large portions of its audience.  Technology has made it possible for thousands of people to broadcast their thoughts and information.  Newspapers proliferate.  Old radio companies moved into television and cable.  Conservative talk radio now has a strong following of people dissatisfied or bored with the traditional “mainstream” media.  News magazines are published weekly.  Millions have access to the internet, with free host services for blogs that can be searched and linked. 

 

Acquiring information on which to report is a much broader road today.  Rather than waiting for the communication carried by a single ship, months delayed, as was nearly the case during the Revolutionary War, we now have satellites and long distance telephones, cell phones, email, airmail, etc.  If I were to witness a robbery, a friend in another state could know of it in minutes.  Google and similar search engines have made it possible to search for the information you wish to share, eliminating part of the need to filter the competing voices on the overwhelmingly large and loud media stage. 

 

Many are taking advantage of this new world of information.  Some who have escaped the education system able to think for themselves have been creating these competing voices and sustaining them for decades until we reached this point.  They investigate sources and find them reliable or not.  Combining information offered by various outlets, an individual can draw his own conclusions and just as easily share them with others.  Nevertheless, the majority of people remain addicted to the single voice.  Unpracticed in discernment and logic, many people embark on an increasingly difficult course of clinging to the familiar one voice.  It won’t last long.  Market forces are at work.  A house divided against itself will fall. 

 

I’m not saying that radio will cease to exist, or that TV will go out of business, or even that the blog and web news fads will blow over.  The influence is what is crashing in on itself.  There is a possibility that it won’t.  More on that in a moment.  If it does, however, there seem to be two choices: either the people who don’t want to choose will wake up and think for themselves anyway, or a new power will come in and control them.  Humanity craves leadership.  It has found leadership without media in the past, and can persevere in its quest once again in a world where media is weak. 

 

Recall those newspaper editors in that room, drinking and smoking cigars.  They don’t want to lose their power.  They don’t want the media empire to fall.  These men know that strong competition, especially when faced on more than one front, reduces their power and eventually destroys it for all of them.  What do they do? 

 

The only chance of survival for the entrenched media is to fight back so hard that opposition is silenced.  In this global technological age, I’m not sure that is possible.  China is finding censorship a difficult problem to conquer.  News businesses may strong arm their competition out of existence through economic competition, or they could if the internet weren’t essentially free.  They can resort to sabotage, eliminating their foes with violence and vandalism and threats.  Some of these new voices might be enticed into joining the club, the chorus.  Or they can utilize their still-strong voices to change the laws.  Laws are changed by wealthy special-interest groups all the time, and markets are controlled by big business using little laws to regulate small business into insignificance.  So with media. 

 

Do not doubt it: the powerful in the media have already begun to work.  Using the government, members of which they helped to their election (and can slander out of power just as easily), they have begun to censor the freedom of speech. 

 

         Broadcast TV, beginning this January, will be a thing of the past in January.  Everything will be published in High Definition, and the government will take control of the airwaves for their own uses. 

         Cable and Satellite TV, though offering many stations, are ultimately controlled by a select few established companies. 

         In the 70’s and 80’s there was a law in effect endearingly called the “Fairness Doctrine,” requiring that radio stations offer all sides of an issue in their programming.  This is both impossible and economically suicidal, as there is not an equal audience for all opinions.  If reinstated, which the upcoming administration has considered, talk radio would be gone.  (It is the nature of laws that they are not always evenly enforced.  Though there may be a law against protesting on public property, the police and district attorneys decide who will be held accountable for violations.  Therefore though the “fairness doctrine” may apply to all radio stations or even other media, enforcement can be targeted at specific stations or genres.) 

 

I don’t know of any plans to censor the printed press or the internet, but watch for it.  You will either see increased censorship or the demise of media as a superpower. 

 

Doesn’t the Constitution guarantee free speech?  Of course!  But how is the government to be held accountable for trespass of the Constitution?  How will you even know they have done so if no one tells you?  Does the government own the airwaves?  Broadcast equipment?  Your TV or radio?  In principle, they don’t.  In practice, they absolutely do.  And if you’re like me, you’re starting to think you’ve heard of other countries where there was one national media, publishing at the will of the government.  Independent media entrepreneurs are not the only ones in history who have noticed that a single voice signifies singular power. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Facebook is a genius’ invention for back door communication.  Rather than asking a person what is going on in their life, you can:

  • Read their wall, and see what others are saying to them, who the others are, and where they are from. 
  • Refresh (F5) Facebook home page (when you’re logged in) constantly in order to track any comments, picture posting, poking that occupies your friends.  Oh – one of the best items on this is relationship status.  Apparently everyone feels obligated to confess on Facebook exactly how they stand with regards to a boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse.  I believe the options are “single,” “it’s complicated,” “in a relationship,” and “married.”  If your status changes, Facebook is smart enough to tell all your friends, with a broken heart image if you go from being “in a relationship” to “single.”  If their significant other is/was on Facebook, Facebook even supplies their name.  Of course there is hacking, and teasing, and the disappointment when you think a close friend has started a relationship without telling you. 
  • Comment on a photo in which they are tagged.  This is very indirect, if you wish.  Only those tagged in the photo will be notified, and get the message. Incidentally, if a random friend has something funny, complimentary, or unflattering to say about a photo of you, Facebook will keep you informed. 
  • Become friends with their good friends, and observe all their comments on walls and photos. 
  • Send them a friend suggestion.  Anyone an enterprising matchmaker? 

More direct modes of communication via Facebook are:

  • Writing on their wall.  I like the public nature of this, so that your conversation is monitored and kept necessarily to the topics and style that can be public. 
  • Sending a message.  For the friends who never got around to giving you their email for one reason or another, you can look them up on Facebook and send them a message.  I believe you can send a message on Facebook whether the person is officially your “friend” or not. 
  • Using their contact information listed on their profile to email, IM, or call them. 
  • Write a note and tag them in it.  Unlike tagging pictures, in my experience tagging is an invitation to read your note. 
  • Poke them.  In this form of communication, your intentions and specific meaning are ambiguous.  Observe their reaction to determine their interpretation, which reveals how they think of you and what they want to think of you. 
  • Tag them in a photo.  At least this will let them know that 1) you thought of them, 2) you know their name, and 3) you thought their picture worthy of a place in your Facebook photo albums which are generally public, even to people (if there are such) not on Facebook. 

 Some things to keep in mind:

  • If you change your status on Facebook, everyone can read it. 
  • If you post to someone’s wall regarding their status, the wall stays and the status goes away. 
  • Applications (Superpoke, movie compatibility, bumper stickers, etc.) will almost always ask you to invite all of your friends, and even have every option imaginable selected as default.  Take the time to “unselect” the options you don’t want.  Pay attention to which options are mandatory. 
  • When editing your profile, if you leave a field blank, it will not appear on your profile.  So you can leave blank your politics or religion if you don’t want to get into it. 
  • If you care about security, you’ll probably decline displaying your full birth date or address.  If you’re paranoid you won’t have any profile picture; you’ll use an assumed name, and you’ll only add friends as “limited profile.”  Either way, be careful that you don’t give the same information away on Facebook by writing on someone’s wall or commenting on a photo.  Friends may even tag you in photos using your real name.  Forgive them.  It is hard to remember. 
  • Get your parents on.  It should up your friend count and makes them look cooler, which definitely helps your reputation.  If they never log on, does it really matter? 
  • If you are a parent, make your kids add you on Facebook (and Myspace) – and make sure they don’t have an alter-ego they’re really using.  Show up every once in a while and comment.  Don’t say anything embarrassing.  Try something funny like, “Dinner’s ready.”  After all, we’re always looking for ways to improve inter-family communication. 
  • If you are a spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend, especially one officially recognized (by being posted on Facebook), drop by each others’ walls from time to time.  Don’t get mushy.  Share a link or comment on a photo.  Be a part of each others’ lives, even on Facebook.  After all, do you want the stalkers to get the wrong impression? 
  • Do not spend money on Facebook.  Seriously.  It’s the thought that counts.  Write something on a friend’s wall, or post a funny picture of them.  Draw them a picture using paint, and post it.  But do something free and thoughtful to show you care. 
  • Am I the only person who can’t handle the surge of envy when they read those applications like “top friends” or “voted best friend for advice,” etc.?  All because I’m too cool to add those applications and wasn’t an option, so obviously my friends didn’t vote for me?  Relax.  Be realistic.  It’s just Facebook. 
  • I’m not as paranoid as the hypothetical person I described above, but I think it’s a good idea if a log out button exists, to use it.  Amazon.com doesn’t have one, and every time I am on that website it knows my name.  Cookies. 
  • Be aware that Facebook has a million options for privacy settings, so some people are less present and visible on Facebook.  Deal with it or ask them to change.  (I suggested to one such friend that I could cure her fear of stalkers by writing a blog all about her with her name and phone numbers and pictures – but I won’t.) 
  • Select the options for email notification.  Email is my catch-all notification box, and I don’t have to type in any passwords to retrieve it on my home computer.  I have Outlook Express set up to sort my emails the way I want, so whenever something important happens to my profile on Facebook, I find out.  (I also get blog comment moderation notices).  So if you’re worried about getting addicted to Facebook, decide only to get on when you get a notification via email.  Do not live on Facebook – or Myspace, Blogger, or WordPress for that matter. 

Facebook is a site for social networking.  The more obvious modes of communication are the harder to use on Facebook.  Is there a reason for this?  Maybe.  Never underestimate the power or omnipresence of links.  Remember that people can read what you do.  Be yourself on Facebook, but be more yourself in real life. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

 

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